With a run of three straight victories, the Elon University women’s soccer team is heating up going into its inaugural season in the Colonial Athletic Association.
“We’re certainly going in the right direction,” said Elon head coach Chris Neal. “Would I want more wins going into conference play? Sure, but winning three straight is a very good ending to nonconference play.”
The Phoenix recorded an opening night victory over Jacksonville State University Aug. 22, but followed up with four straight losses in which it scored just one goal.
Elon got back on the winning track by beating Coastal Carolina University and Francis Marion University during a weekend trip to Wilmington and continued its winning streak into a Sept. 19 victory against Gardner-Webb University.
In the three wins, the Phoenix conceded one goal while keeping two clean sheets. It’s been a dramatic improvement from the 13 goals Elon allowed during its four-game losing streak.
Senior defender Bethany Houpt said the difference has been in the team’s discipline.
“We’ve focused a lot on our defensive tactics, especially in the last few,” Houpt said. “We were really focusing on staying compact, keeping the gaps between us and midfield tight with a lot of communication.”
Thus far, Neal has partnered Houpt’s experience with freshman defender Kendall Ballotti on the back row. Ballotti was the only player to play the full match against Gardner-Webb and is second on the team in minutes played with 543. The Long Valley, New Jersey native also recorded a goal and an assist in Elon’s victory against Francis Marion.
Four Elon defenders lead the Phoenix in minutes played through eight games, but Neal wants to maintain a defensive rotation, particularly with their fullbacks.
“We have a nice rotation of our outside backs between [sophomore] Erin Tanhauser, [senior] Caroline O’Dee, [sophomore] Sarah Henson, [sophomore] Hannah Howard and [junior] Mel Insley,” Neal said. “Those are five capable players that can hold down the outside back positions for us.”
Neal admitted that conference play is a horse of a different color, especially with the steeper competition throughout the CAA.
“The mentality changes completely,” Neal said.
In the CAA, only the top six teams qualify for the conference tournament. With postseason spots at a premium, Neal said he believes there is no room for a let-down game.
“Every game for me, which I need to imprint on the team, is a tournament game,” he said.